Cherry Blossoms and Budget Proposals

cherry blossoms

Two important events happen every spring in Washington, DC. The emergence of the Japanese cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin draws visitors from all over the nation and around the world. At about the same time, policy wonks all over the city are eagerly awaiting the release of the President’s annual budget proposal to see how much that administration wants to fund the programs and agencies important to them.

The arrival of both is always uncertain, even though federal law pinpoints a release date for the budget proposal; they both are only around for a brief time, although the blossoms always stay longer; and they both take time to reveal themselves.

The budget proposal is officially released when the Office of Management and Budget posts volumes of material, sometimes printed in the smallest of fonts, on its website. Despite the quantity of material, it doesn’t really tell you much. It’s after each individual agency releases its Congressional Justifications, detailed explanations of agency spending plans, that the true budget picture is revealed. At that point, it’s possible to understand the real priorities of the administration. And soon after, just like the cherry blossoms, the budget proposal disappears.

National Institutes of Health

So what do the Fiscal Year 2023 Congressional Justifications for the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) have to say? The most striking information from the NIH justification is the size of the NIH budget and how the administration proposes to use the funds. The official NIH budget request by the Biden Administration is for $62.5 billion, 38% more than the FY2022 budget and 20% more than the request last year. Of the total $62.5 billion request, $5 billion funds the ARPA-H initiative and $12.5 billion is for NIH’s portion of a new Pandemic Preparedness Plan. If the funding for both ARPA-H and the Pandemic Preparedness Plan, two new programs not normally included in annual NIH budgets, were removed from the NIH budget, the FY2023 budget proposal would actually be a 0.39% cut from the FY2022 budget.

The Pandemic Preparedness Plan is an $81.7 billion program that will involve the NIH, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration, and will be managed by the Office of Preparedness and Response within the Department of Health and Human Services. As part of the larger plan, NIH will be responsible for the discovery of potential vaccines and therapies, the development of mechanisms to evaluate the efficacy, and ways to improve the vaccine and therapeutics development process.

The impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the research community is addressed in the NIH justifications. NIH acknowledges that, because of the pandemic-related lockdown of research institutions, research projects had to stop and a wide range of research resources now need to be recreated. NIH also recognizes the impact the pandemic has had on the extramural workforce, particularly early stage investigators (ESI), who are experiencing delays in their career trajectories.

In response to these problems, the NIH indicates that it plans to offer extra support to ESIs whose career paths have been adversely affected. NIH will allow recipients of NIH Fellowships and NIH Career Development awards to request no cost or funded extensions. Each case will be considered on a case-by-case basis. While the NIH recognizes the same problems within the research community that the ASCB found when we surveyed members, they continue to follow the policy of “flexibility” in addressing the problems and also ask ESIs and other investigators to be the ones to ask for help, something many are hesitant to do because they are concerned asking for help will reflect poorly on them and their research.

National Science Foundation

Just like the NIH budget that includes a new institute (ARPA-H), the NSF budget request must be viewed through a lens that includes plans to add a new Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP). There is no debate in Washington, DC, about creation of the new directorate. If anything, the debate in Congress is about how big it should be.

The NSF funding request for FY2023 is $10.5 billion. This is 18% more than the FY2022 budget approved by Congress. The request includes $879 million for TIP, which is only a placeholder for the TIP directorate that is expected to have a significantly larger budget once it is approved by Congress.

The budget request for the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) is $970.23 million. Because of the delay in passing the FY2022 federal budget, the exact FY2022 budget for BIO has yet to be determined. The NSF justification says that the NSF plans to pay greater attention to racial equity and inclusion in biological sciences. In addition, BIO will develop new efforts to support mentoring and training for college students, particularly underrepresented minorities, and mid-career scientists through the Mid-Career Advancement and Transitions to Excellence in Molecular and Cellular Biosciences programs.

Now that the budget proposals have been released and the cherry blossoms have bloomed, it’s up to Congress to turn the President’s wishes into a federal budget.

About the Author:

Kevin M. Wilson serves as Director of Public Policy and Media Relations for The American Society for Cell Biology. He's worked as the Legislative Director for U.S. Congressman Robert Weygand (D-RI) and as a Legislative Assistant for U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI). He has a BA in Politics and American Government from the Catholic University of America. Email: